More smoke and haze on the way for Perth with burn offs to be taken at every opportunity

May 4's smoke haze viewed from Applecross. Photo: Andrew Ritchie
May 4's smoke haze viewed from Applecross. Photo: Andrew Ritchie

PERTH is likely to experience dozens of smoky days each year with the Department of Biodiversity, Conservation and Attractions (DBCA) saying it will take advantage of every opportunity to undertake prescribed burning ahead of the summer bushfire season.

Residents woke up to a heavy smoke haze this morning following 14 prescribed burns conducted by DBCA yesterday, with the possibility of more tomorrow with 11 burns scheduled today.

A DBCA spokeswoman said while a dry start to autumn limited the department’s ability to kick off its prescribed burning program, burn offs were in full swing following recent rain.

“The department’s annual financial year target for prescribed burning in the south-west of the state is 200,000ha,” she said.

“So far the department has burnt 138,168ha.

“The impacts of smoke and weather conditions are vital considerations when deciding when and where to undertake burns.”

In the 2016-17 financial year, the DBCA burnt 247,360ha, the department’s best result in 29 years.

Bushfire Front chair Roger Underwood said without prescribed burning Perth would be subject to even worse smoke pollution.

“The department is well aware that smoke is political dynamite,” he said.

“For many years successive governments in WA basically banned any burning that might bring smoke into the city.

“The result was dangerous fuel accumulations in the forests east and south-east of Perth, and some very nasty bushfires.

“About two years ago there was a relaxation of this policy, with more fuel reduction burning and smoke haze consequences.

“I think a point that people miss is that in the absence of burning you get fires which generate far worse smoke than mild burns.

“The 2005 Perth Hills fire blanketed Perth for three days and you could not see the city from Kings Park.”

Mr Underwood said the impact of smoke haze was exaggerated by opponents of prescribed burning.

“In fact it is about their only remaining legitimate complaint, as in every other respect from environmental, ecological, economic, public safety and protection of rural assets, burning is beneficial, indeed essential,” he said.

“The health impacts are very minor, mostly confined to asthmatics. I feel sorry for them, but there are measures that they can take.

“There is no need whatsoever for healthy people to stay inside to avoid a bit of wood smoke.

“The community has forgotten that for over a century, Perth was a city that was powered by wood; there were wood fires in every kitchen, in every bakery, in schools, brickworks, factories, farms.

“I well remember the city wreathed in wood smoke every winter morning – nobody died or complained.”

The DBCA spokeswoman said an additional $20 million in funding provided by the State Government under the Royalties for Regions program to be spread over four years (2015-15 to 2018-19) had allowed the department to enhance its prescribed burning program.

“Overall, this allows the department to increase the mobility of staff and equipment across the south-west to maximise prescribed burning operations,” the spokeswoman said.

“In its south-west forest regions, the department aims to have 45 per cent of the landscape it manages, around 2.5 million hectares, at less than six years since last burnt.

“At the end of last financial year, it was at 41 per cent.”

Rural Fire Division executive director Murray Carter said preparation and prevention were critical in emergency management.

“The State Government has allocated $15 million to extend the Bushfire Risk Management Planning (BRMP) Program which supports local governments to identify community assets at risk from bushfire and develop strategies to deal with them,” he said.

“An additional $35 million in funding has been allocated in addition to the existing $15 million Mitigation Activity Fund which is available to local governments to help protect WA communities from bushfire, including slashing, planned burning and fire breaks.”

Emergency Services Minister Francis Logan said prescribed burning was a valuable tool to reduce the bushfire risks facing communities.

The smoke haze is expected to clear by Friday afternoon.

Smoke alerts issued for Perth metro area (Gingin to Mandurah)
2014-15: 37
2015-16: 48
2016-17: 34
2017-30 April 2018: 21

MORE: WA experiences emergency call issues following Telstra cable cut

MORE: Discovery of speed camera fault will shake public’s trust, says Assistant Police Commissioner

MORE: Police seeking witnesses following fatal crash in Welshpool

MORE: May the 4th be with you: we rank all the Star Wars films from worst to best